Photo Credit: David Banks - USA TODAY Sports

A Tough Draft Decision Avoided, Tomorrow’s Plans and Dodgin’ Kostin

The Decision at Five

The Canucks entered this draft with a very clear idea of what they needed to get at fifth overall. They identified two distinct needs: a playmaking centre and a power play defenceman.

It came as little surprise then when Canucks general manager Jim Benning announced his selection of Timra centre Elias Pettersson with the fifth overall pick. Benning did admit, though, that the decision would’ve been a difficult one had the Colorado Avalanche let Cale Makar slip to them at five.

“Well, that would have been a hard decision.” Benning said through laughter. “Makar’s a player that drives the play from the back end. That would have been a hard, hard decision. We had a feeling that both the defenceman (Makar and Miro Heiskanen) would be gone, so we were concentrating on a couple guys with Pettersson being the guy we wanted.”

You won’t be terribly surprised by who Benning’s alluding to when he describes the other couple guys who were in the running with Pettersson at five. The obvious one is Cody Glass. Benning admitted they like the Portland Winterhawks pivot but felt Pettersson’s experience playing against men gave him a distinct advantage.

“We really liked [Glass] too.” Benning admitted. “With Pettersson, I think it was playing in the Allsvenskan as an 18-year-old [where] he put up good numbers.”

The Canucks couldn’t really go wrong here. They’re both excellent prospects, and Benning’s experience as a scout means granting him the benefit of the doubt in close decisions like these. What other choice do we have?

Jockeying for Position

The Canucks interest in Glass, imagined or otherwise, could’ve paid serious dividends. Had they kept the facade up long enough, it’s entirely possible they get Pettersson at six and an additional second round pick.

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee admitted to NHL.com columnist Nick Cotsonika that he was willing to move a second round selection to move up to fifth overall for Glass. Eventually, Vegas understood that Glass would be available to them at six, and any impetus for trading up for the Winterhawks pivot vanished.

I asked Benning about McPhee’s comments, and he confirmed that the two sides indeed had conversations about exchanging picks.

“Well, [it’s] just what he said.” Benning confirmed. “We talked about going from five to six, and he would’ve got the five pick, but at the end of the day he didn’t want to do it and we made the pick.”

After the fifth overall selection, the Canucks and their fans were left waiting. Benning spoke on Thursday about the possibility of moving back into the first round if a player they targeted was available to them in the 20’s.

As Timothy Liljegren fell right out of the top ten and into the teens, some wondered whether that would pique the Canucks’ interest. The Maple Leafs took the Swedish rearguard at 17th overall, ending any speculation of that nature.

I wondered too if Portland Winterhawks defenceman Henri Jokiharju would draw them back into the first as he made it past 25. The Canucks scouted Jokiharju extensively this season, and it’s widely believed they would use the 33rd overall selection on the Finnish transitional defenceman at 33rd overall. That was too good to be true, though, as the Chicago Blackhawks had Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews select Jokiharju with the 29th overall pick in front of a raucous United Centre crowd.

Did Benning ever consider moving back into the first for those or another player? It doesn’t sound like that’s the case. “No, the player we had our eye on was already gone so we didn’t try to look to move back into the first round.”

If anything, it sounds like Benning is considering moving down in the second — with his 55th pick, it seems. When I asked him about that possibility going into tomorrow, he acknowledged it’s more likely they look to recoup picks in the later part of the draft with their second rounder.

“We’ll listen to our options. That 33rd pick where you still like two or three players we thought could’ve went in the first round that didn’t – we’re going to get one of those with that top of the second round pick.” Benning said. “After that, we’ll have to see. We don’t have a fifth [or] sixth round pick this year, so maybe we can flip down and try to recover picks in those rounds. We’ve got lots of picks and it’s going to be a fun day tomorrow”.

What About Klim Kostin?

One could make a reasonable argument that the St. Louis Blues made the best value pick of the draft when they took Russian winger Klim Kostin with the 31st overall selection. I’ve spoken to many scouts over the week who gave glowing reviews of the Russian winger. Some thought of him as a top ten talent.

At one point, it seemed as though you could count the Canucks among the believers in the Russian who missed most of his draft season to injury. I heard rumours that he was a chief target for them if they moved down from fifth overall. So much for that.

Clearly, Kostin wasn’t the player the Canucks coveted enough to consider moving back into the first to land. Benning admitted that no such player made it to the 20s. One reason why could be Kostin’s passport.

“With what happened with Tryamkin, it would have been tough to take another Russian so high.” Benning said. “We weren’t trying to trade up or anything.”

I’d heard nothing to date about how Nikita Tryamkin’s defection would affect the Canucks at the draft. Full marks to the Canucks for waiting until afterwards to reveal the impact it had on their willingness to use a high pick on a Russian. There’s nothing wrong with keeping your opponents guessing.

  • Puck Viking

    So we could have got a another 2nd and drafted the same player but we decided for some reason that was a bad idea?? I honestly dont understand the thinking of this management group at all. Time for a change.

  • Frank

    Like many fans, I was on the Glass hype train. He looks like an accomplished mature two way pivot in the mold of Horvat. But when you look at the highlight reel for Pettersson, you’ll quickly see that he has elite skills and likely higher ceiling than Glass. He has both the tangibles such as puck handling and the intangibles such as the ability to see the game a few steps ahead of his opponents. In other words, he processes and executes the game at a very high level. You have this talent or you don’t. Sure, he’s a bean pole but many guys are also slight at that age. He’s got plenty of time to fill out and gain strength. But even as young and slight as he was this year, he competed against men in the Swedish league and excelled. For Benning, the idea of having Pettersson and Dahlen paired together on a top line (perhaps with Boeser) is simply too enticing. I may have personally gone with Glass as a more conservative pick but can’t fault them for this choice.

  • vancouver millionaire

    i was at a private draft party with lots of season ticket holders and game going regulars yesterday and i can tell you that when the petterssen pick was made you could here a pin drop. complete shock and devastation in a room packed full of knowledgable canuck fans. i really cannot get my head around this pick at 5 over glass, vilardi or even trading down for liligren or cal foote after makar and heiskenen went early. and message for all those saying pettersen will ‘fill out’ – you are putting lipstick on a pig, that’s 40 lbs of muscle needed!? dream on. this is a massive blow for many of us, does management not look at our division rivals like the cali powerhouses, edmonton and calgary to see that all these small wimpy players like goldobin, dahlen and petterssen are going to get ragdolled and muscled out big time. lots of doom and gloom (and cheap seats available now) within the game goer community today i can assure you. gutted.

    • TheRealRusty

      Personally I am not too bummed out about the Pattersson pick as I think he will be an NHL player, that said he might not be the top center we are looking for that can compete in the big bad bruising Western Conference. Totally underwhelmed by all the selections we made in rounds 2nd-5th though…

  • Steamer

    Interesting comments regarding Kostin & Tryamkin – what will they do about Zhukenov? Despite rumours, still has not signd KHL deal – will he return to Dev camp & sign – or elsewhere?

  • Leigh McBain - love hockey

    Petterssen is a high skill kid, who’s willing to press to the net, ceiling is VERY high. He has VG hands, protects the puck well and pivots and turns on a dime. He is slight (presently), but he is only 18 years old and with a proper professional workout program and diet management it would be no surprise to see him 20 lbs heavier before anyone expects to see him making a push for the Canucks.

    I, like more than 1 or 2 others, may have sided with the Glass option, as he appears to be closer at present to being NHL ready physically, but if management truly believe in his pairing with Dahlen, then this selection can be legitimately argued.